The technology supporting business innovations like e-commerce moves quickly — so much so that even the minds that created it are racing to keep pace. In the warehouse, the last step before products reach customers, shipping solutions help keep the current steady so that supply chain professionals can focus on navigation, rather than propulsion.
Think you've got enough agility to steer the shipping boat to success? Take this shipping agility quiz to discover how well you ford choppy waters:
1.) Where should your adjustment focus be, in order to ensure the best agility?
A.) In the planning stage, before products are even created.
B.) At the distribution level, to speed up customer fulfillment.
C.) On manufacturers, to keep up with demand.
2.) What is your attitude toward competitors when it comes to shipping practices?
A.) They do their thing, we do ours.
B.) We do our best to match their practices exactly.
C.) We know how they operate, and we've cherry-picked the best methods for our company.
3.) How can suppliers help you formulate shipping solutions?
A.) They can drop-ship finished products directly to the customer.
B.) They can share packaging manufacturer sourcing with our company.
C.) They can discuss postponement orders and similar future-facing planning with you.
4.) Why do fulfillment professionals need shipping transparency?
A.) To prevent theft and monetary misuse within a company.
B.) To give them actionable data and contacts if agile course-correction is necessary.
C.) To help illuminate areas in need of improvement or opportunities.
Part of a holistic approach to end-to-end transparency, Kurt Salmon advises that forecasting potential issues and customer demand increases at the planning stage allows you to build in some breathing room and chart contingency plans.
Not all companies have access to the same resources or see the same benefits and detriments, so its important to always do your benchmarking with context in mind. Ignoring your competition, however, is seldom a smart move. At the very least, you'll want to know enough to counter big marketing pushes or promotions.
While A and B might help your company, drop-shipping exposes a lot of your customer information and relinquishes significant control over the consumer experience. Vendors may be reluctant to share industry sources — even with their own clients — as it could affect their own bottom line. Postponement orders, on the other hand, are an advanced technique employed by top-quartile agility leaders.
4.) B and C.
Most potential theft or funding mismanagement generally happens prior to the last stage of customer fulfillment, but data and agility opportunities are ripe for the plucking in the same area. A true fulfillment and shipping leader not only does their job well, they investigate ways to make the workflow smoother, or the invoices a little less painful for the bottom line, whenever possible. On the whole, transparency also takes effort to set up and maintain, so its presence speaks to the work ethic of those managing it.
Constant Course Correction Is Key
Your shipping solutions will never be of the set-and-forget variety if your company has any plans to expand, improve or change in the future.
Knowing where your agility pain points — and your strengths — are will ensure that any evolution is a relatively easy one on your fulfillment as a whole. If you are concerned about your company's current state of shipping agility, chances are you're only a few planning sessions away from getting out of the danger zone. New opportunities demand new solutions, and with exciting new technology just peeking over the horizon for supply chain management, there's never been a better time to start pulling them together.